MAJOR plans for 1,000 flats and retail units to replace current town centre shops including The Range, Aldi, and TGI Fridays can go ahead despite concerns after a mistake made by Reading Borough Council.

The council was seeking to scupper the Vastern Court development plans, which will see the Reading Station Shopping Park replaced by tower blocks, retail space and more.

Reading Borough Council undertook a High Court legal challenge against the project that was approved by government ministers earlier this year.

When the High Court challenge was lodged last month, Micky Leng (Labour, Whitley) lead councillor for planning said government ministers should not be allowed to ‘ride roughshod over and undermine the local democratic planning process’.

However, a procedural error made by Reading’s council meant that the challenge had to be regretfully wtihdrawn’, meaning the development can go ahead.

A spokesperson for Reading Borough Council explained: “Due to a procedural error, the council’s legal challenge relating to Vastern Court has been regretfully withdrawn.

“While the council lodged the application to the High Court in time, service to other parties was not completed on time, resulting in a technical breach of procedure.”

The Aldi at Vastern Court, also known as the Reading Station Shopping Park in Vastern Road, Reading. Credit: James Aldridge, Local Democracy Reporting ServiceThe Aldi at Vastern Court, also known as the Reading Station Shopping Park in Vastern Road, Reading. Credit: James Aldridge, Local Democracy Reporting Service

The project proved controversial when it was approved by government ministers rather than the local authority. At a council planning applications committee meeting in February 2022, the committee agreed that they would have refused it, arguing the proposed multi-storey towers would dwarf the surrounding homes in Vastern Road, Caversham Road and the Bell Tower area.

The project also lacked detail on affordable housing.

READ MORE: Plan to replace Aldi, The Range and TGI Fridays with flats, offices and more slammed

However, the council was unable to decide on the project itself, as the deadline for a decision to be made was missed, leading to developers Aviva Life & Pensions launching an appeal.

While a government-appointed planning inspector sided with the council, that verdict was overturned by Conservative ministers at the department of levelling up, housing and communities who approved it in March this year.

The council spokesperson said: “While obviously disappointing, the council fully stands by its original grounds for refusal, which were upheld by an Independent Planning Inspector.

“We would emphasise that the withdrawn legal challenge relates to an outline planning permission only, which means there need to be further applications submitted for approval.

“These applications will be considered on their merits.”

Developers can submit applications for outline permission with more details being determined later on, called ‘reserved matters’. Details of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale of the new buildings are all under reserved matters.

READ MORE: Fears raised over approval of 1,000 flats to replace stores in Reading

The amount of apartments provided in the future development went up from an estimated 600 in 2022 to 1,000 apartments when the project was approved this year.

The project will mean current occupants of the shopping park The Range, Majestic Wines, Aldi, One Below and TGI Fridays will all have to move on.

The Range is set to open a store at the Brunel Retail Park in Whitley soon.

You can view the outline approval by typing reference 200328 into the council’s planning portal.